Back at the first of the month, the media and NeverTrump were all gaga over an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic claiming that a) President Trump had deliberately avoided attending a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I to be held at the US military cemetery at Belleau Wood, France, and b) that President Trump referred to the Americans buried there, mostly Marines of the 4th Marine Brigade of the US Army’s 2d Infantry Division, as “losers” and “suckers.”
The problems with the story were manifest. First off, memos had been obtained under FOIA over a year ago, showing that the cancellation was made for reasons of safety and was requested by the aviation unit. So, Goldberg either knew or should have known as he was writing the story that multiple contemporaneous documents existed, showing his central thesis was in error. A second massive problem with the story was that not only were there no named sources for the “losers” and “suckers” story, even such anti-Trump figures as John Bolton said it did not happen.
That story was simply an attempt to damage President Trump’s standing with veterans and current members of the Armed Forces. While the senior ranks and SJWs who’ve managed to infest mid-level leadership don’t like Trump, his standing with the troops is solid.
Now The Atlantic is back at it. This time the claim is that [gasp] Donald Trump is not a man of deep personal faith and has been known to disparage some religious leaders and practices.
The president’s alliance with religious conservatives has long been premised on the contention that he takes them seriously, while Democrats hold them in disdain. In speeches and interviews, Trump routinely lavishes praise on conservative Christians, casting himself as their champion. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” he declared at a rally for evangelicals earlier this year. It’s a message his campaign will seek to amplify in the coming weeks as Republicans work to confirm Amy Coney Barrett—a devout, conservative Catholic—to the Supreme Court.
But in private, many of Trump’s comments about religion are marked by cynicism and contempt, according to people who have worked for him. Former aides told me they’ve heard Trump ridicule conservative religious leaders, dismiss various faith groups with cartoonish stereotypes, and deride certain rites and doctrines held sacred by many of the Americans who constitute his base.
The is the evidence proffered:
One day in 2015, Donald Trump beckoned Michael Cohen, his longtime confidant and personal attorney, into his office. Trump was brandishing a printout of an article about an Atlanta-based megachurch pastor trying to raise $60 million from his flock to buy a private jet. Trump knew the preacher personally—Creflo Dollar had been among a group of evangelical figures who visited him in 2011 while he was first exploring a presidential bid. During the meeting, Trump had reverently bowed his head in prayer while the pastors laid hands on him. Now he was gleefully reciting the impious details of Dollar’s quest for a Gulfstream G650.
Trump seemed delighted by the “scam,” Cohen recalled to me, and eager to highlight that the pastor was “full of shit.”
“They’re all hustlers,” Trump said.
It helped that Trump seemed to feel a kinship with prosperity preachers—often evincing a game-recognizes-game appreciation for their hustle. The former campaign adviser recalled showing his boss a YouTube video of the Israeli televangelist Benny Hinn performing “faith healings,” while Trump laughed at the spectacle and muttered, “Man, that’s some racket.” On another occasion, the adviser told me, Trump expressed awe at Joel Osteen’s media empire—particularly the viewership of his televised sermons.
Trump’s public appeals to Jewish voters have been similarly discordant with his private comments. Last week, The Washington Post reported that after calls with Jewish lawmakers, the president has said that Jews “are only in it for themselves.” And while he is quick to tout his daughter Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism when he’s speaking to Jewish audiences, he is sometimes less effusive in private. Cohen told me that once, years ago, he was with Trump when his wife, Melania, informed him that their son was at a playdate with a Jewish girl from his school. “Great,” Trump said to Cohen, who is Jewish. “I’m going to lose another one of my kids to your people.”
I’ve been curious about the president’s opinion of Mormonism ever since I interviewed him in 2014 at Mar-a-Lago. During our conversation, Trump began to strenuously argue that Mitt Romney’s exotic faith had cost him the 2012 election. When I interrupted to inform him that I’m also a Mormon, he quickly changed tack—extolling my Church’s many virtues, and then switching subjects. (He remained committed to his theory about 2012: During his September 2016 meeting with evangelical leaders, Trump repeatedly asserted that “Christians” didn’t turn out for Romney “because of the Mormon thing.”) I’ve always wondered what Trump might have said if I hadn’t cut him off.
When I shared this story with Cohen, he laughed. Trump, he said, frequently made fun of Romney’s faith in private—and was especially vicious when he learned about the religious undergarments worn by many Latter-day Saints. “Oh my god,” Cohen said. “How many times did he bring up Mitt Romney and the undergarments …”
First and foremost, I’m not sure anyone thinks Trump is a devout Christian. That is not news. My personal view is that President Trump lived all but the last four years of his life relatively free from any kind of religious influence, and I hope, as a Christian, that he is embarked on a personal faith journey that will serve his own soul well when it faces Particular Judgment. That said, I find it hard to criticize anyone who thinks Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel is a scam wrapped up in heretical bullsh** and if we can’t make fun of money-grubbing pastors of mega-churches then we have effectively lost our national sense of humor.
One of the wonders of Christian denominations is their ability to belittle one another. I was raised Baptist. I know what’s said about Catholics. I’ve been in Protestant churches where Jack Chick tracts were available the pamphlet rack. But the great thing about faith and faith practices is that they are not made less valid simply because another denomination disapproves. All that matters is that someone does not try to stop them.
This is where President Trump wins the support of this fairly traditional Catholic.
Martin Luther is reputed to have said he’d rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian. In that vein, I don’t need for Trump to approve of my religion or my faith practices, but I do need for him not to bring the force of the federal government to bear in order to stamp them out. Trump understands that things that are not terribly important to him are vital to others. I’d much rather have a president who could care less about my faith and leave me the hell alone than one who, like Biden, purports to share it and spends all of his waking hours undermining its practice and reducing what should be a central part of our lives to the Obama-esque “freedom of worship.” Making our reason for existence (see Matthew 22:35-40) into an arcane set of practices hauled out for a couple of hours during the week.
The left, on the other hand, has made secular politics its faith. As the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett progresses, the degree to which that has taken place will be undeniable. A little earlier today, a Joe Biden adviser said that eventually believing Christians and Jews and Muslims should be barred from holding government office because they are simply not sufficiently tolerant.
Here’s a @JoeBiden staffer saying that orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism should be made “taboo” and driven from the public sphere. Beneath all the talk of “interfaith” and “pluralism,” this is what they really believe. pic.twitter.com/PrN8S1qaLG
— Jeremy McLellan (@JeremyMcLellan) September 29, 2020
Over the weekend, I made the same argument about how Black America should respond to Trump’s newly announced Platinum Plan. (READ: Some Critics of President Trump’s Platinum Plan to Revive Black America Are Asking All the Wrong Questions.) I really don’t care what Trump says or thinks. I care very much about what he does. Like with abortion, President Trump has done more in four years to safeguard the ability of people of faith to live their lives based on that faith that George Bush did in eight. If The Atlantic thinks that this shabby hit piece will convince anyone voting for Trump to either vote for Biden or stay home, they are sorely mistaken. We know what is at stake, and we will crawl over broken glass to cast our votes for President Trump on November 3.